Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How did people teach before post-its? How did they have students organize their thoughts? Record their notes? Participate in silent carousels? Explore resources? Monitor their own behavior? Yesterday alone, I went through roughly two post-it pads before lunch. And that was just math and social studies.

Post-its let me be spontaneous: what began as collection of review notes became a comprehensive web. We were just supposed to collect three facts about Jamestown to jog our intersession addled memory. But we noticed connections between our notes. We wanted to share them. Some of us needed to organize them. Our required three notes became 4, 5, and even 6. We stopped reviewing and began researching. Our notebooks replaced by library books, an impromptu research project inspired by post-its.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tipping Hats

Our own Ms Jenny wrote a fantastic reflection on AYP celebrations at In Practice.

I am no expert, but it sounds like an essay. Even if it is one paragraph too long.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Literary Success

They did it! Fourth graders pulled together a fairly nice literary magazine in just two weeks. They began that period with no real knowledge of what a literary magazine is and finished by publishing one. Pretty impressive, on the whole.
Here are some pictures from the work Tree did with them during the first week. They did a lot of thinking about what makes a collection and why people collect various things.

Later they did a lot of brainstorming and reflecting about literary magazines.

Then, they looked at bunches of works of art and thought about the emotions they evoked.

All of this served to get them ready for the process of choosing texts and artwork and laying out our literary magazine.

I'm fascinated, as usual, to see their thinking. Our magazine included fifteen texts written by students from second through fourth grades. There are about twenty pieces of artwork in it by students from kindergarten through fourth grade.

The students who worked on the magazine wanted to spend time writing for it. One of our goals was for the magazine to give students a new audience for their writing. I think some of them are starting to see that. We hope to create another edition in the spring and I think it will be exciting to see how many students want to submit work after seeing this edition.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Are We Crazy?

It's intersession for our school. This means the students are here by choice (their's or their parents') and taking two different, fun-filled classes each. Tree and I are teaching one together (she took the first week and I've got the second). We're having fourth graders create a literary magazine. I've wanted our school to have a literary magazine for a while and when Tree suggested doing it during intersession I thought she was brilliant. She taught last week and it seems great. They talked about collections - what are they, why, etc. They looked at artwork to brainstorm the emotions evoked. High school students came in and talked about the literary magazine they've worked on and their process.

Now I'm teaching. And I can't figure out how we move from this wonderful thinking and exploring about literary magazines to actually taking the writing and artwork we have and creating one. And certainly not in the next four days! I usually feel like that's a good sign. The students will be the ones to make it happen, not me. But, this time I'm not sure. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Teamwork Really Works

I've finished 18 out of 19 parent conferences (and yes, I'm aware of how very, very lucky I am to only have 19 students). Every year I dread the conferences. I do so because of the time it takes to schedule them, get translators, confirm everything, prepare for them, etc. This year stressed me out even more because I will be out of town for the allotted conference days so I met with parents before school, after school, and during planning time. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to this drain on my time.

And every year, once conferences get started I remember how much I love them. It's only my 10th year of teaching, surely someday I'll remember this before conferences get started.

I learn so much about my students from these conferences. I find out that they love math this year, spend all their free time on a scooter, do martial arts, play bells at church, or write stories on a book's website. I learn about their families; baby siblings, extended families living together, parents who are divorced and the child has no contact with a father who abused my student's sister. I hear how the parents view their child, the learning, and how the year is progressing. Typically, we are seeing the same things, but occasionally I am shocked by things I learn: a student who can't stand reading (never saw that in class), a student who never stops talking at home (but is very shy and quiet at school), a student who has never liked school starting in kindergarten (but seems happy in class and seems to enjoy her work and friends).

I walk away from these conferences feeling like I'm part of a team. The parents and I are working together with the students to make fifth grade a great year.

I hope the parents get even half as much out of these meetings as I do.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What I Want

My goal as a teacher is to make myself an after thought. More like the couch cushion that serves as the door to an elaborate sleeping bag, sheet, chair, table, and couch fort, and less like the couch. I am not the structure that keeps the sheets up, I am the door that invites visitors in.

I want the learning to happen without me. I want my students to initiate their learning, use their resources, and share with each other in order to build their understanding. They take the inspiration from the rug of sleeping bags, they find the extra sheets needed to complete their compound, and they use their chair and couch support system to hold it all together. I am upstairs, eating freshly baked cookies. I am forgotten, until tummys begin to rumble.

However, I, as the teacher and cookie maker, need to consider the social and academic lessons that bring my students to such an independent level. Lessons that need to be taught directly, lessons that need to be repeated in small groups, and lessons that need to be modeled on a daily bases. My goal is to empower my students so they see me as foot steps upstairs. I may iron the roof, but I will not hold it up.